Litfest interview: Spencer Dodington

By Andrew Chin, March 5, 2014

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Since moving to Shanghai in 1995, Dodington has turned his love of the city's Concession-era architecture into a succesful renovations practice. He's spent the past three years studying Paul Veysseyre, who continues to have over 100 buildings standing in the former French Concession, co-writing with Charles LaGrange, the first comprehensive coffee table-style book on the Old Shanghai architect, complete with current and historical images.

You have an upcoming book focusing on Paul Veysseyre's architectural legacy in Shanghai. What is it about his style that made you want to work on a project about him?
I first came to love Paul Veysseyre's work when I first moved to Shanghai in 1995 and was lucky enough to live in one of his firm's best buildings, the Gascogne, on Huaihai Lu. The building's design allows for lots of light and built-in storage, and the double-lounge floor plan was perfect for parties. It felt designed for old Shanghai: although a modest flat, it was built to entertain. As I came to know more Veysseyre buildings I noticed the similarity among them, and always wanted to understand more of this family of work.

Could you talk a bit more about the book, its format and when it will be out?
The book is a 30x30cm, coffee-table-style work filled w original and new photos and descriptive text. It is divided into three sections: a biography of the French architect Paul Veysseyre, several chapters describing his buildings and style, and a succinct section on the major events of the French Concession. The book will be launched at the Shanghai International Literary Festival, at other lecture-like events and walks throughout the spring.

Do you have any particular Veysseyre favorites and what are some of his iconic buildings that people should check out?
I especially enjoy the exterior and interior designs of Veysseyre's apartment blocks. In addition to the Gascogne above, several others are the Magy and Boissezon on Fuxing Lu, the Bearn on Huaihai and the Dauphine on Jianguo Lu. In between these towers there are many smaller homes, hospital buildings and even religious structures that the Veysseyre team produced. The most spectacular interior that people can still see today is inside the Okura Garden Hotel, particularly its ballroom. 

What was the process in writing the book (how long it took, etc.) and what were some of the biggest challenges?
The book took three years of researching, writing and publishing. The Veysseyre family, outside Paris, were particularly helpful in supplying original photos and architecture drawings. Charles Lagrange, my co-author, lives near Brussels, and was able to facilitate the researching in French. A challenge here in Shanghai was getting facts correct. Many of the history markers around the city aren't clear and there is no publicly accessible repository of architecture information.

What can people expect from your Shanghai Lit Fest talk?
My talk will focus on the Art Deco buildings that Paul Veysseyre and his architecture firm designed. Most of these are still standing and can be visited. Additionally Paul Veysseyre was a European who spent 16 years of his life in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. His story is interesting in its similarity perhaps to international residents today. Furthermore, architecture and preservation are hot topics now, especially as Shanghai becomes known for its architecture legacy.

In addition to the book, you also co-founded Luxury Concierge China. Could you talk a bit  about what you do and if there are any upcoming events or projects?
Luxury Concierge China provides bespoke experiences for residents and guests who want to understand Shanghai. Our popular offerings can be viewed on our website. My role in the company is chief tour leader and trainer. Very simply: it's thrilling to showcase Shanghai's history and architecture to anyone curious enough to ask me. 

Is there anything you would like to add?
Glad to add to the other great books that have been written on Shanghai's pre-War architecture history. I hope these will allow residents and China's future architects to recognise and appreciate the city's heritage

// Literary Lunch, March 6, 12pm, RMB120. Glamour Bar, 6/F, No.5 the Bund, by Guangdong Lu, by Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 中山东一路, 外滩5号6楼, 近广东路 (6350 9988)

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